Oct/Nov 2010 – Phatic Expressions and Failure

Phatic Expressions and Failure

In linguistics, a phatic expression is one whose only function is to perform a social task, as opposed to conveying information. The question “how are you?” is usually an automatic component of a social encounter. If you are like most people, either your reply is a quick one-word answer (eg. “not bad” or “good”) or a question of your own (eg. “great, and you?”). In such an exchange neither expects a detailed answer to their question. Much like a shared nod, it’s simply an indication that each has recognized the other’s existence and has therefore performed sufficiently an expected social duty.

I have overheard thousands of collection calls over the last 20 + years, and there is one phatic expression that proves more problematic than any other. the expression’ “How are you today?”

People, whether it be credit department personnel, managers, or business owners often inject this statement into the introduction of their collection call as a way to break the ice and gently ease into the real purpose of their conversation, in this case, demand for payment. The opening is the most important part of a collection call and opening with a phatic expression is one that can easily cause the call to get off track, especially when the customer provides a less than favorable response, such as, “I’m doing terrible”. Upon hearing a response such as this most people reply with a heartless, “I’m sorry to hear that” then launch immediately into the true purpose of their call; demand for payment.

Such a question sounds harmless enough, but few customers believe you truly care about how they feel (and you likely don’t), and some customers will use such a phatic expression as an opportunity to attack you and get you off track from the true purpose of calling; to get paid, not to see how your customer is feeling or doing!

Improve your effectiveness, while showing a higher degree of sincerity and respect to the individual in the process, by being honest and containing your communication to questions and words that are truly relevant to your purpose; getting paid. Collections is a business transaction, not an emotional issue.

From Thomas Jefferson 3rd US President & Author of the

Declaration of Independence (1762-1826):

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”